Rugby Union: Sailor denied work permit

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WENDELL SAILOR may have cruised into rugby's big-money bracket over the last couple of years, but he found himself well and truly torpedoed by the bureaucrats of Twickenham yesterday.

Australia's outsized international rugby league winger was denied permission to play union with Leeds Tykes, the ambitious Allied Dunbar Premiership Two club, after consultation between the governing body and the Overseas Labour Service, the government body responsible for sanctioning work permits.

Sailor agreed a pounds 100,000 deal during the close season as the Tykes planned to pay him pounds 5,000 a game while sharing him with their league cousins, Leeds Rhinos.

However, Sailor's lack of 15-man experience has backfired in a big way. Rugby Football Union rules state that any player from outside the European Community must have played at international level within the past 18 months to fulfil the entry criteria. Sailor has never played union to Test standard, let alone recently.

"We acknowledge the potential of bringing someone like Sailor into the game in England but we cannot recommend an exception to the criteria at this time," said Terry Burwell, the director of Twickenham services.

"However, we are urgently seeking discussions with all parties to review whether the criteria should encompass a degree of flexibility in special cases."

Leeds, who have persuaded the RFU to think again, are citing the precedent set last year when Newcastle rugby union were allowed to sign the former All Black Va'aiga Tuigamala from Wigan rugby league after work permit difficulties.

European preview, p23